Pacific Salmon Environmental and Life History Models: Advancing Science for Sustainable Salmon in the Future

Statistical Models of Pacific Salmon that Include Environmental Variables

Randall M. Peterman, Brian J. Pyper, Franz J. Mueter, Steven L. Haeseker, Zhenming Su, and Brigitte Dorner

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874097.ch8

Abstract.—Past attempts to improve population models of Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. by adding indices of freshwater or marine conditions have shown mixed success. To increase chances that such models will remain reliable over the long term, we suggest adding only environmental covariates that have a spatial scale of positive correlation among monitoring locations similar to, or greater than, that of the salmon variables that scientists are trying to explain. To illustrate this approach, we analyzed spawner and recruit data for 120 populations (stocks) of pink O. gorbuscha, chum O. keta, and sockeye O. nerka salmon from Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. Salmon productivity of a given species was positively correlated across stocks at a spatial scale of about 500–800 km. Compared to upwelling and sea-surface salinity, summer sea-surface temperature (SST) showed a more appropriate spatial scale of positive covariation for explaining variation in salmon productivity, and was a significant explanatory variable when added to both single-stock and multi-stock spawner-recruit models. This result suggests that future models of these salmon populations should possibly include stock-specific, summer SST. To further explore our understanding of salmon population dynamics, we developed 24 alternative stock–recruitment models. We compared these models in three ways: (1) their fit to all past data, (2) their ability to forecast recruitment, and (3) their performance inside an “operating model,” which included components for dynamics of the natural ecological system, stock assessments based on simulated sampling of data, regulation-setting based on those assessments, and variation in implementing those regulations (reflecting noncompliance or other sources of outcome uncertainty). We also compared single-stock models with multi-stock models (meta-analyses). The latter led to more precise estimates of the effects of SST on loge(recruits/spawner) and greater accuracy of preseason forecasts for some stocks. Analyses with the operating model show that reducing outcome uncertainty should be a top management priority.